By Brian Ives
Last week, Radio.com exclusively spoke with Eric Church to mark the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his debut album, Sinners Like Me. Church, who was very generous with his time, spoke at length about a number of other topics, including the progress of his next album (don’t hold your breath), a surprising new business he now owns, and his thoughts on retirement (he’s recently had a change of heart.)
Have you started thinking about your next album yet?
No. I didn’t want to put a record out. I didn’t need to put a record out, I was taking this year off. Basically, once I put out Mr. Misunderstood, I’ve been just hanging. I was supposed to be writing. I don’t really have a direction after Mr. Misunderstood, it happened so fast. I don’t really know where to go. That was kind of an honest, grown up assessment of where we were. I haven’t really been working on anything for the past few months, other than the next tour, which we’re kicking off in January, so we’ve been working on that. We’ll be releasing some of that information in the next month or two.
How did you decide to surprise release the album? It seems like in recent years, big artists are able to just “drop” an album without notice. David Bowie, Beyonce, now you.
Ours was out of necessity. The whole album happened in about thirty days, even the recording of it. All of the sudden I had this record, and I was completely “off-cycle.” The label didn’t even know about it. We started scratching our heads, my manager and I, saying, “What are we gonna do here?” But I don’t believe in letting something like that sit on the shelf. The way it came to me is the way I believe it should be consumed. In thirty days, this thing happened. It’s a crime, in my opinion—a crime—to not put that out for five months. I couldn’t do it. So we came up with the idea, “Let’s just put it out.” We went to a lot of lengths, we even purchased a record pressing plant in Germany, because we couldn’t get the vinyl made in the U.S. because it was fourth quarter, and everyone had other projects in line before us. Vinyl takes a long time [to press]. So we found a pressing plant that was for sale in Germany, and we bought it. And we pressed the records over there ourselves. We did the covers and everything there. And we shipped them back to the U.S., and gave them away to fans, and the rest of them, we distributed the best we could. [laughs] We surprised everybody! We surprised retail, we surprised the label. The day it came out, there were people who still had no clue about it. If we [pressed it] in the U.S., there’s no way we could have kept that a secret, but because we did it in Germany, nobody saw it coming.
So, now you’re the proud owner of a vinyl pressing plant in Germany?
So, what are you going to do with that?
The good news is, with vinyl, there’s lots of demand. And there’s not a lot of places that do that.
You sang about your admiration for Merle Haggard in “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag.” He toured and recorded almost to the end. Do you think you’ll ever retire?
Here’s what’s funny. I would have told you around the Chief record that I was going to retire someday. That was the most successful, but weirdest, time I’ve ever had. It’s an odd thing for an artist to go through: when you’re a bar or club act, and you have your lane, and you have your crowd, and then all of the sudden, boom! You’re in arenas. It was a tough transition for me. It was tough musically, because I felt like, “Well, I have to hurry up and play ‘Springsteen,’ or ‘Drink in my Hand.'” And I lost a little bit during that era, of what made the show special. It’s the songs in between the hits that makes the show special. Because I was a bit insecure with all of these people being at the shows all of the sudden, and not knowing exactly why, and not knowing how to entertain to that room. So that was an era that I didn’t love as much, ironically.
From then on, I began to get more comfortable with Outsiders, and our live show went from a structured live show to a very loose show, back to what it used to be, taking requests and playing two and a half or three hour shows, playing whatever we wanted to. I gained more confidence. So, now I’ll tell you that I’ll probably do it forever. I enjoy it differently than I did four or five years ago, it was more of a grind then to do the same show every night, it irritated me. Outsiders and Mr. Misunderstood gave me the freedom to play different shows, we have a big catalog we can draw from every night, it’s loose. It’s fun. and it’s the fun that we lost for a short period of time.
Do you still feel the need to play the hits?
For me, it doesn’t always have to be about that big song. The fans love it when they get a “Can’t Take it With You.” or they get “Lightning.” And that’s who the show has become more about. It’s the people who have been there for the long haul. There’s always going to be people coming on and falling off, depending on what you’re doing commercially. But our fan base is built on those songs in between [the singles]. They want those deeper tracks. I remember the first time we played “Can’t Take it With You” on the Outsiders tour, about seven or eight shows in, it was probably the first time we played it on tour since the sinners like me era, and as soon as the lick started, the place went nuts.